New investors offer to save Saigon’s abandoned ‘super project’

By Huu Nguyen   November 2, 2018 | 03:00 am PT
New investors offer to save Saigon’s abandoned ‘super project’
Citizens of the Thanh Da Peninsula harvest rice on what should be an eco urban area. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
At least four companies are interested in reviving Ho Chi Minh City’s eco-urban area project that’s been abandoned for 26 years.

One of them is willing to spend up to $3 billion on the Thanh Da Eco Urban Area in the Thanh Da Peninsula in Binh Thanh District, not far from downtown HCMC.

Given the complicated nature of the project, the city will not assign investors anymore, but organize a bid to choose investors, Vo Van Hoan, the city's chief of staff, told a meeting on Thursday.

But it will take at least 800 days for city authorities to review the entire project and set more specific criteria for choosing investors and thus, the city will now allow locals in the area to repair their houses as they wish, Hoan said.

He did not reveal further information about the potential investors.

For the past 26 years, thousands of Thanh Da Peninsula residents have lived without any rights in their own houses.

The urban area, spread over of 426 hectares (1,053 acres), was planned to become an eco-urban residential area with natural landscapes, resorts and shopping centers.

Once completed, it was to become a center for knowledge and new technologies. It would have 45,000 residents, three times the current population.

This "super project," as many locals refer to it, was first approved by the city in 1992, and in 2004, the city repossessed land in the Thanh Da Peninsula and allocated it to the Saigon Construction Corporation, which was supposed to be an investor.

After the corporation failed to begin implementing the project, the city asked another company to step in. Nothing happened.

The project was forgotten for another decade until HCMC in late 2015 appointed Vietnam's Bitexco Group and the UAE's Emaar Properties PJSC as joint investors with a capital of over VND30 trillion ($1.28 billion).

Under this new arrangement, the project was supposed to be implemented over 50 years, with primary construction work being completed within five years from the date of signing.

In mid-2017, Emaar Properties PJSC withdrew from the project and the city has asked the government to approve Bitexco as the project's sole investor.

But it took another six months to assess the ability of Bitexco and seek approval from higher authorities. Eventually, the PM wrote to HCMC, concluding that it was very difficult for Bitexco to go on with the project on its own.

In this situation, thousands of Thanh Da people have been caged in confusion and misery for decades.

For 26 years, they have had to live in slum-like conditions, unable to repair their own house or build new homes on their own land, or sell parts of their property to raise much need money to survive.

One resident, Le Van Hai, has said: "It's our house yet we have no right here. We wanted to build a small shack for our children to live in, but even that was not allowed. Not only my family but everyone here wants the project to be implemented soon. We are tired and confused from having to wait for so long."

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